Judge Thomas Marcelle determined that the commission was formed and assigned enforcement powers in violation of the constitution, in part, because it was not done through a constitutional amendment that would have required a vote “of the people.” He noted that the commissioners are selected by an independent panel of law school deans who have sworn no oath to public office and selected the nominees through a secretive process.
The ruling was issued in a long-running court battle in which former Governor Andrew Cuomo has fought against the ethics commission’s efforts to investigate a $5 million deal that he received for writing a book about his administration’s handling of the pandemic. The investigation has centered on allegations that Cuomo improperly used government staffers to help him research and write the book.
Marcelle’s ruling also highlighted how the commission has the ability to severely punish ethics violators as well as whether to not investigate someone for an alleged ethics breach. His ruling said, “Indeed, in the estimation of other state courts, when an independent ethics commission has the capacity to impose penalties, it crosses an impermissible constitutional line.”
It is expected that New York State will appeal the ruling.